The Native Instruments Komplete Audio 1 is one of the most popular budget interfaces available. It’s popular for a few reasons, how it sounds, how it looks, and the fact that so many people use Native Instruments controllers/software already. Along with the good things, it does come with a few drawbacks that we will discuss in our review to help you decide if it’s the right interface for you.
NI Komplete Audio 1 overview
Native Instruments are known for having pretty sleek designs, and the Komplete Audio 1 is no different. Its minimalistic look makes it one of the most visually attractive audio interfaces on the market.
On the front panel, you have an XLR microphone input and gain level knob. Rather than having XLR/TRS combo inputs, Native Instruments have added a separate TRS input with its own gain knob on the front.
Some users may prefer the dual combo input configuration that you get from the Komplete Audio 2, but it’s not a massive issue at entry-level. The TRS input is switchable between instrument and line level.
After the inputs, there’s a button to toggle phantom power on/off for the XLR input and a knob to control the direct monitoring mix. The direct monitoring mix knob lets you blend between the direct input and the audio from your DAW.
We say this all the time, but it’s worth repeating; not every interface gives you that control over the mix. Instead, many offer just a switch to go between 100% direct and 100% DAW mix, so it’s great to see it included here.
Wrapping up the front panel is a 1/4″ headphone jack with volume control.
The top panel is what makes the Komplete Audio 1 look so good; it’s ultra-sleek and minimalistic. On the left, you have LED level meters for both inputs, along with USB and phantom power LED indicators.
What makes the top panel sleek is that the LEDs are underneath rather than on top, so it’s completely smooth. To the right is the large output volume knob.
The back panel is where things start to get a little interesting. Starting with the basics, it has a USB connector on the right and a Kensington locking connection on the left.
The monitor outputs are unbalanced RCA rather than balanced TRS that you’d find on most audio interfaces. So, this might suggest a few things; first of all, many have the opinion that RCA is consumer-grade and not professional-grade. Some also believe that using RCA instead of balanced TRS is an instant downgrade in sound quality.
The reality is that most entry-level buyers won’t notice any issues from using RCA cables, but it still leaves the door open for potential problems. For example, RCA cables aren’t as robust as TRS cables, and poor quality or faulty cables are often the cause of many sound issues.
While we don’t think it ruins the interface’s overall appeal, we would have preferred to see balanced TRS outputs.
Native Instruments state a bit depth of 24-bit and max sample rate of 192 kHz. The 192 kHz sample rate, and when it might be useful, is something that we have talked about with other small/budget interfaces.
The Komplete Audio 1 is, of course, aimed at musicians of all kinds, but it’s popular amongst EDM, hip-hop, and synth-wave producers. Having the ability to record those frequencies is great for special effects and slowing down, which works well with the genres we mentioned.
The frequency response of the Komplete Audio 1 is impressively flat. There is a drop of around 3 dB at the 75 kHz mark. If you use a lower sample rate, like 48 kHz, the frequency response will be perfectly flat in the audible range.
In theory, 24-bit audio means a very high dynamic range, but in practice, it doesn’t always pan out that way. The dynamic range of the Komplete Audio 1 microphone input measures at around 109 dB (A-weighted). That’s a very decent dynamic range and allows you to record with plenty of headroom while also limiting the risk of clipping.
One of the most impressive things about the Komplete Audio 1 is the ultra-low noise preamp. The preamp delivers an equivalent input noise of 129.5 dBu (A), which is better than many competitors, including the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2. Even with low-sensitive dynamic microphones, you get a very low noise floor.
At the other end, the max gain is a touch low at 44 dBFS at 0 dBu, but with the low noise floor and high dynamic range, it’s not a dealbreaker at all.
We have mixed feelings about the build quality of the Komplete Audio 1. As we said already, the Komplete Audio 1 is one of the best-looking audio interfaces you can buy. It’s also one of the most popular and best-selling audio interfaces in its class. However, at the end of the day, and as good as it looks, it’s still entirely made of plastic.
Being entirely plastic means you have to think about two things, does it look cheap? And does it feel cheap? The surprising answer to both questions is no; it doesn’t.
The interface is very lightweight, but it still feels sturdy enough. It’s a hard plastic, and to be fair, even the knobs, buttons, and switches feel pretty robust. There is minimal wiggle movement in any of the level knobs.
So, we conclude that it’s surprisingly robust for a completely plastic unit, but metal casing would be better, and our score has to reflect that.
The Komplete Audio 1 comes with Maschine Essentials, the full Maschine software, just like you’d get with Maschine Mk3, Mikro, or Jam. The Maschine Essentials software includes 1.6 GB of sample content, and the difference between Essentials and Maschine Factory is that Factory has more sounds and content. You do get the option to upgrade at a discounted price.
Ableton Live Lite is the included DAW, and given that the interface is very popular with EDM producers, it’s a good choice.
Komplete Start, a pretty comprehensive production suite, is also in the bundle. As well as Komplete Start, you get some additional effects plugins like Replika (delay), Phasis (phase effects), and Solid Bus Comp (compressor). So, you are pretty well covered for production tools.
You only get one virtual instrument, but it’s a good one! Monark, Native Instruments flagship virtual analog mono-synth, is included.
NI Komplete Audio 1 vs. other interfaces
You may have already made your mind up based on what the Komplete Audio 1 does well and what it doesn’t do well. But, you should never buy without stacking it up against the competition.
Focusrite Scarlett Solo
The Komplete Audio 1 does have a few things in its favor over the Scarlett Solo. But, the Scarlett’s Air mode and metal construction make it a better choice. See our Focusrite Scarlett Solo review
PreSonus AudioBox USB 96
The AudioBox USB 96 is far more robust and just as portable as the Komplete Audio 1. However, it doesn’t look nearly as good, and the software bundle from Native Instruments likely has a broader appeal. See our AudioBox USB 96 review
M-Audio AIR 192|4
If you want something with the same minimalist look and flat surface but with a solid metal chassis, this is it. Although it’s slightly bigger than the Komplete Audio 1, we love the AIR 192|4. See our full review
Final verdict on NI Komplete Audio 1
There are undoubtedly a few things that we don’t like about the Komplete Audio 1. It’s plastic, and it has unbalanced outputs, which will put some people off. But, keep in mind, being plastic doesn’t mean it’s fragile, and it has a lot to offer.
We think the Komplete Audio 1 will continue to be a hit with electronic music producers, mobile producers, and anyone who already uses NI hardware/software.
- Ultra-low noise preamp.
- Sleek design.
- Great software bundle.
- High dynamic range.
- RCA outputs.
- Plastic chassis.